Court Upholds United Airlines’ COVID-19 Vaccination Policy

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. November 10, 2021
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A United Airlines plane at an airport gate

​On Nov. 8, a U.S. federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas, upheld a United Airlines policy that requires workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or placed on unpaid leave if they have a medical or religious exemption. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Approximately 2,000 Employees Exempted

United has provided about 2,000 vaccine exemptions to its workers. Employees in roles such as pilots, flight attendants and customer service agents will have to take unpaid leave until the pandemic ends. The airline said in a statement that it was pleased with the ruling and would try to find roles for exempted employees that were "non-customer-facing." If the workers refuse the roles, they will be placed on leave, United said. The plaintiffs said they would lose seniority and other benefits if placed on leave.

(Reuters via CNN)

United's Statement

"We know that the best way to keep everyone as safe as we can is for everyone to get vaccinated, as nearly all United employees have chosen to do," United said in a statement. The airline said it will review COVID-19 transmission and case rates every 30 days to determine when it is safe to let unvaccinated employees resume their original roles.

(NPR)

Temporary Restraining Order Expired

A temporary restraining order against United that had barred it from denying its employees religious or medical exemptions and placing employees who have those exemptions on unpaid leave expired Nov. 8. "Ultimately, however, it is not for the court to decide if United's vaccine mandate is bad policy," the judge wrote. "Rather it is the court's role to determine if plaintiffs carried their burden to obtain a preliminary injunction." The court concluded that they had not.

(The Hill)

Some Resignations Due to Requirements

United announced in August it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all employees, regardless of job duties. It was the first airline to do so companywide. The final deadline was Oct. 25, when workers had to choose between providing a vaccination certificate or going on unpaid leave. Up until mid-September, 10 workers had resigned due to the requirements.

(Simple Flying)

Federal Appeals Court Has Blocked Biden Administration's Vaccine-or-Testing Policy

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has issued a stay temporarily blocking President Biden's new COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing policy for businesses with at least 100 employees companywide. The court issued the ruling after a range of lawsuits were filed in states across the country challenging the policy. But covered employers should still prepare for the upcoming deadlines under the policy while litigation is pending, according to employment law attorneys.

(SHRM Online) and (SHRM Online)

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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